What is biblical cosmology
Creation of the world, evolution theory and belief in creation in school
An orientation aid from the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, EKD-Texte 94, 2008
2. Scientific theories and belief in creation
2.1 Character of the biblical creation narratives
The two creation narratives of the book of Genesis (Genesis) direct our attention to the creation of heaven and earth, the beginning of life and the origin of being human. You see behind everything that happens in this world, God's creative work.
The famous sentence "In the beginning God created heaven and earth" (Gen 1,1) must be read as a heading over the entire creation process, to which the cosmos, the biosphere, organic life and finally man owe. Although the following first account of creation (Gen 1,1-2,4a) could not dispose of our current cosmological knowledge, it offers a subtle world order thinking. In the great time units of the "days of God" (cf. Ps 90.4: "A thousand years before you are like the day that passed yesterday and like a night watch"), cosmic, biological, anthropological, cultural and religious basic elements of the Creation brought about and connected with one another. Thereby the creatures are given a share in the divine creativity. The heavens part, the earth brings forth, the stars rule and the people receive the famous mandate to rule. A contrast between creation and evolution would be alien to the most important classic among the biblical testimonies.
Unlike the stories of Israel's liberation from Egypt, the transmission of God's will on Sinai or the prophetic message of judgment and salvation, the confession of God as "Creator of heaven and earth" (cf. Gen 14; 19) is not the oldest Old Testament tradition. Rather, it presents itself as a consistent continuation of the claim that the God of Israel is not only the God of his chosen people, but the only God in the world to be worshiped. In doing so, Israel resorted to ideas of creation from its ancient oriental environment and completely reinterpreted them in the context of its experiences with God and its understanding of the world.
Places of confession to the Creator are praise in worship (cf. Ps 8; 19; 104) as well as reflecting on wisdom about the perfection of the order of creation. In both cases, the question of securing the world and the meaning of its order is in the foreground, while the question of the origin of being and how it was created remains a secret hidden from man (cf. Proverbs 8:22; Job 28; 38ff .). Accordingly, very different and at first glance contradicting ideas can be taken up in the creation narratives of Genesis. Thus the first creation account (Gen 1,1-2,4a) understands the creation of heaven and earth from the connection of the word of creation and the act of creation and defines the human being - and indeed every human being - as "the image of God", the true one divine order of creation is assigned the highest and inalienable dignity.
The subsequent second creation account (Gen 2,4b-3,24), which goes back to an even older tradition, tells of the creation of man from "earth from the field" and the gain of godlike knowledge through the enjoyment of the fruit of the forbidden tree and problematizes so the limits and possibilities of man in the world. Created in God's image, human beings - every human being - strive to become equal to God.
The real interest of the biblical texts of creation is not a cosmological or even metaphysical one. The Old and New Testaments agree on this. God's purpose for creation goes far beyond the mere processes of nature. Thanks for the present work of God is by far the dominant form of confession to the Creator in the Bible. Just as the work of the artist praises the artist, the works of creation praise their heavenly Creator: "The heavens tell the glory of God, and the feast proclaims the work of his hands" (Ps 19: 2). "Let the sky rejoice and the earth be happy, the sea roars and what is in it; the field is happy and everything that is on it; all the trees in the forest should shout before the Lord ..." (Ps 96: 11f.) . But also the complaint about the finiteness, mortality and self-endangerment of creation and the questions about God's saving and elevating work are part of the belief in creation. In the direction of belief in the Creator, the reality in which we live changes. Our world emerges from its supposed self-sufficiency and is discovered in its relation to God.
2.2 Creation theology as a theme of Christian theology
The view of Martin Luther in his interpretation of the first article in the Small Catechism is exemplary. Luther thinks - entirely in line with the biblical texts - from the point of view of the topicality of divine work. If God did not work creatively here and now, the world would have to pass, "where it does not begin, nothing can be or become, where it ends, nothing can exist". We cannot make a schematic distinction here between creation and preservation, the preservation of the world by God is realized as current creation in a process that cannot simply be regarded as complete (creatio continua). Similarly, John Calvin placed the main emphasis on God's actions today and his work in the present when he thought through the creation of the world.
I do not find out that I am God's creature by speculating about the first second of the universe, but by becoming aware of the gift character of my own existence. According to the Reformation view, the core of belief in creation is that people learn that they are God's creatures and can say yes to the justification and at the same time to the limitation of their life through God's creative mystery. This in no way puts the perception of the creatureliness of the world around us and creature aside, but it does mark the all-important point that we must not skip over. One can - as Luther made clear - go from university to university and acquire all wisdom about the work of creation. The faith that is contained in the Creator's creed cannot be found through it. I have to believe myself as a creature of God who receives everything from him and can thank him.
In the 21st century, the theology of creation sees itself challenged primarily by two problem contexts: On the one hand by the multilayered conflict situation with a worldview that perceives reality as if there were no God, on the other hand by the ethical problems that arise from a relentless deal with of nature and of the new possibilities to influence the genetic building blocks of life. That is why every creation theological draft today has to take a detailed look at the hermeneutics of the biblical texts of creation and the dialogue with physics, biology, cosmology and anthropology. In addition, the ecological crisis, which in the meantime seems to have developed into a crisis in the world climate, has led to a revitalization of the theology of nature and to the question of an ethos of gentle treatment.
2.3 The difference to the scientific perspective
Belief in the Creator perceives the cosmos and the biosphere differently than the experimentally based sciences. It moves in dimensions that are on a different level than the objects of modern science. The dimensions of the real, which are named and recognized in belief in the Creator, remain closed to them. This corresponds to the methods you have chosen. Physics and biology are oriented as precisely as possible to the world of the measurable and calculable. Its success is crucially based on the ability to break down nature into quantifiable sections and to formalize it into objects of human knowledge. Of course, you can't deal with God like that. It cannot be treated like a measured quantity or like an object. From the theological point of view, dealing with God in this way would be completely inappropriate, in fact one would deprive oneself of the possibility of knowledge of God if one wanted to force God onto a level with physical objects of knowledge.
The difference to the world view of the natural sciences emerged to the extent that they no longer learned to base their knowledge on wisdom observations, but on mathematical contexts of experience. Thus, with Copernicus, Kepler and Newton, a world model developed which, due to its inherent laws, worked without the notion of direct divine intervention. In the 19th century, the theory of evolution advanced to become the dominant explanatory model for the origin and development of biodiversity. Scientists and theologians had to be prepared for the fact that the perception of nature of faith and the conception of nature in experimental physics diverged and that biology came to models of development that differ markedly from the traditional views of the origin of life.
Evolution also shapes the scientifically trained point of view itself: Human knowledge of nature is constantly developing; previous findings become obsolete at ever faster intervals. The level of natural knowledge reached in each case cannot be dogmatized; if you do, you will then defend yourself against discoveries that do not fit your understanding of nature. The dispute between the Roman Church and Galileo Galilei can be interpreted in this way. Another striking example are the attacks on Darwin's theory of evolution. Of course, this is an extreme. Because most scientists remained religious - and that out of deep conviction. And the theologians learned to live with the new knowledge and still hold on to the conviction of God's creative work. It is no coincidence that theologians were and are active as natural scientists and explorers. For example, there is a Society of Ordained Scientists in England today. In many parts of the world there are regular dialogues between theology and the natural sciences, conferences on this subject are held and books about it are published.
It cannot be said that modern scientific development was instrumental in promoting or even producing modern atheism. This feeds from other roots, above all from the absolute position of inner-worldly rationality and from the rebellion against everything religious. The advance into the immensity of the universe, which was still unimaginable to our ancestors, arouses a religious interest rather than induces people to deny God. The same applies to the investigation of the conditions that led to the origin of life and to the insight into the lavish abundance of variations in the evolutionary process. Prominent advocates of the theory of evolution have professed the Christian faith for good reasons. "The more precisely we understand, the greater our astonishment": the sentence by pianist Alfred Brendel about the adventure of interpreting a musical work also applies to the knowledge of nature.
Although the scientific, theological and spiritual perspectives on the world have a lot in common, regardless of their differences, faith and natural sciences do not form two poles on one level and cannot be viewed as comparable strategies for accessing reality, which would inevitably have to alternate. Belief in the triune God has always to do with the basic orientation of the whole person and includes - correctly understood - all of his expressions of existence. Like any other science, physics and biology can be understood as one of these manifestations of existence. Where such a scientific expression is declared the only conceivable one and its insights alone determine or should determine human orientation, we speak of scientism. The narrowing of perception through ideological scientism not only affects theology, but also represents an eminent challenge for thinking in general.
2.4 The cosmological and anthropological scope of belief in the Creator
Especially under the influence of Immanuel Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" (1781), ways of looking at things that differentiated between the scientific, philosophical and theological horizons and the respective competencies related to them increasingly prevailed. It became clear what exactly the natural sciences can recognize, where philosophical reflection has its place, where speculation begins and what is the object of belief. The reality field of the natural sciences is structured in such a way that the question of God can neither be asked scientifically nor answered scientifically. This gave theology the opportunity to consciously affirm the free development of the natural sciences and the advances in knowledge associated with it.
This model of differentiating competencies has proven itself many times. But precisely because of this, its weak points must also be considered. They consist in a latent tendency towards a lack of relationship between the respective thinking horizons. Physics, biology, philosophy or theology are then practiced side by side and no longer have anything to say to each other. The unifying question of truth dissolves in the plurality of levels of knowledge. It becomes unclear that in the question of an appropriate interpretation of reality the perspectives of knowledge of the various sciences and areas of knowledge meet and overlap, even if there are no appropriate formulas for such overlaps in view of the fragmentary nature of human knowledge.
The distinction between the perspectives of knowledge must therefore not be misunderstood as a division. Belief in creation has cosmological implications that must be observed. Even if, for the reasons mentioned, it is not possible to design a "cosmotheology" in which the belief in the Creator and the scientifically secured knowledge of our time come together to form a coherent overall picture, certain ideological exaggerations of the scientifically shaped worldview are in question posed. Anyone who is convinced that the creation of the world and the development of life ultimately go back to the creative will of God cannot accept chance as the only conceivable category of interpretation beyond the formation of scientific theories.
Faith in creation lays claim to the interpretation of our reality. Because the cosmos and with it the human lifeworld belong to this reality, belief in creation inevitably advances into cosmological dimensions - also where it teaches us to think about a beginning (and an end) of space and time.
2.5 The wrong ways of creationism
"Creationism" is a collective term for - represented by minorities in Christianity - views that vehemently turn against the assumptions of the theory of evolution. Based on the literal inspiration of the biblical texts, creationism defends the inerrancy of the biblical creation texts. Originally it was a North American phenomenon, especially an appearance in the so-called "Bible Belt" of the southern states. However, for the last twenty years or so, there has been increasing sympathy for creationism in Europe - especially where corresponding evangelical influences from the USA come to the fore.
Creationism is based on the unanswered questions of the theory of evolution and seeks to prove its inconsistencies. He does not shy away from objections that must be clearly described as dubious. In that creationism reacts to the ideological ideologization of evolutionary theoretical assumptions, as advocated by an anti-church "ultradarwinism", it too assumes the character of an ideology of science.
Since creationism has often been identified with Christian fundamentalism and thus called into question, its spokesmen and sympathizers have worked purposefully to upgrade it. An attempt was made to shape it in such a way that it appears capable of science and, under the sign of a further developed neo-creationism in the USA, finds its way into school and university education and curricula. Neocreationists can let the controversies about the so-called literal interpretation of the Bible rest and do not insist at any price on the biblically calculated termination of the age of the world. Of course, they continue to attack the prevailing scientific understanding of the world as an expression of atheism. There are phenomena that can only be explained in a supernatural way. The regularities and functional relationships of the universe and life could only be explained by an intelligence as the cause and not by an evolutionary process guided by chance.
The adoption of such intelligence led to the theory of "intelligent design".Behind this theory, in a certain way, the so-called teleological proof of God comes to life again, according to which the artistic design of nature demands a purposeful, purposeful, divine architect. The adherents of "intelligent design" look for signs of God's creative actions in creature processes, the complexities and information concepts of which cannot be explained in a natural way. Despite the considerable scientific effort, the concepts of "intelligent design" must be assessed as pseudoscientific; Such hypotheses cannot exist before the test criteria of strict science.
Like any serious scientific hypothesis, the theory of evolution must of course remain open to criticism. Many of their assumptions are less certain, even by the standards of biology, than is expressed in popular scientific representations. The theory of evolution is of course not refuted by pointing out its vacancies. There are strong arguments in favor of them. As a scientific attempt to explain the origin of life, species and biodiversity, it has the highest probability and development capacity. In view of today's knowledge about the history of nature, adherence to the natural history imagination of the biblical accounts of creation creates more inconsistencies than the assumption that the nature known to us is the expression of a development process that spanned billions of years. Such clinging does not do justice to the Bible itself either.
In addition, it must be said clearly: It is precisely for theological reasons that creationism is to be rejected. He disregards the biblical and systematic-theological insights into the origin, form and meaning of the biblical testimony of creation and disregards the historical context of its origin. With this he deprives himself of the possibility of an appropriate development of the biblical testimony to creation. And he ignores the distinction between the levels of knowledge. The decisive mistake in reasoning consists in trying to make the intervention of God in the evolution of the cosmos and the biosphere verifiable and thus representable with the help of scientific methods. In this way God falls into the dubious role of a stopgap. If one tracks down the gaps in evolution in order to prove the direct intervention of God in them, the understanding of God is being rendered a disservice. Because one inevitably pushes God out of the world with every gap closed by new knowledge into which one wanted to bring him into.
2.6 The wrong ways of the atheistic fight against the belief in creation
This misunderstanding and abuse of the Christian belief in creation is mirror image of the wrong path, which from the insights of modern natural sciences believes that it can inevitably derive a denial of God and the obligation to fight atheism. Using the example of doctrinal Marxism, it can be shown where it leads when scientific knowledge, which in itself can be well founded, is ideologically exaggerated. In the name of an ideological claim to sole representation of the state in the schools of the GDR, the belief in the Creator was defamed as anti-science.
The "new atheism" propagated today by Richard Dawkins and other authors fits seamlessly into this ideological scheme; methodically he sets his own approach absolutely in a fundamentalist way. Its advocates deny the existence of God on the basis of scientific arguments and, moreover, do not shy away from denigrating beliefs. In doing so, they are restoring an "ultradarwinist" view of the world according to which religion belongs to a pre-scientific age and disappears with the triumphant advance of scientific consciousness. Because this disappearance does not happen by itself, it has to be driven by an ideological struggle, for which one seeks to secure the support of supposedly scientific insights. Belief in God should be removed from the foundation by denying that one is dependent on a God to explain the origin of the world and life. Here, too, the examination of the concept of God is based entirely on the misunderstanding of a "stopgap God". On the other hand, creationism and "intelligent design" are welcome opponents who are exaggerated as the main representatives of Christianity, and indeed religion in general. The developments in scientific theology, the achievements of the historical-critical exegesis of biblical texts and the ethical power of Christianity, however, are in no way taken into account. However, an enlightened belief in God need not fear the state of scientific knowledge; on the contrary, he seeks a dialogue with the sciences in which fundamental questions are dealt with without dogged fundamentalism.
2.7 The conversation with the natural sciences
In Germany there has long been a tried and tested tradition of dialogue between theology and the natural sciences. In the past sixty years there have been impressive dialogues and promising approaches. The detonation of the first atomic bomb and the associated horror of the consequences of an unleashed urge to innovate strongly stimulated joint reflection. In the 1970s and 1980s, the talks reached a second high point, triggered by the increased awareness of ecological problems and the expected consequences of the unrestricted exploitation of our natural habitat. There were important conferences and publications on the theories of open systems, on the understanding of time in theology, philosophy and natural sciences, and on the responsibility of scientists. Today, numerous interdisciplinary discussions are being held around the world, especially on questions of epistemology, human science and eschatology. In England and the USA professorships for "Science and Theology" or "Science and Religion" have been created at prestigious universities.
The interdisciplinary dialogue on the interpretation of reality is of importance for the world orientation of the Christian faith - and for the meaning orientation of modern science, which should not be underestimated. Dealing with reality can only gain when the different perspectives of knowledge meet. Of course, this requires suitable rooms and constellations. The Church will continue to see this as an important task. The interdisciplinary reflection, in which each participant is present with their own competence and open-mindedness, promises considerable gains in knowledge in any case.Next chapter
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